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SAVING THE WORLD WITH SQUIGGLES
By Michael Matthews
September 3, 2009 -- I'll admit it. A couple of years ago, I spent $8 to buy a ticket to Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and immediately started my own private campaign to save the planet. Hey, his slideshow impressed me.

My good intentions lasted through a trip to Home Depot to buy squiggly lightbulbs. After installing the compact fluorescents, I also started separating our garbage and even considered buying a hybrid car.

We've still got the squiggly lightbulbs and I continue to separate garbage, but, sadly, my other efforts to go "green" have fallen by the wayside. No, wait, that's not true. I now only use the dishwasher when it's bursting at the seams with dirty dishes and I turn off the tap while brushing my teeth and shaving. Hey, every little bit helps…

To be truthful, however, I've started to get sick of all the media attention being given to our imminent death by broiling and, as a result, my efforts to save the planet have slipped.

And, worse, so has the commitment of the hotel industry. They're not doing much to save the planet, either. That not only amazes me, but it is also frightening.

Consider some numbers. In the 30,000 hotels in the United States, there are about two billion sheets washed every year and about the same number of towels. Ninety-nine percent of the water used does not get recycled. Hotels contribute to greenhouse gases and global warming in many other forms. The industry is a major source of wasted electricity. Hotels also generate an immense amount of garbage. In case you didn't know, garbage creates more methane gas per square foot than an automobile does driving one mile.

As an hotelier, I should be ashamed that we do so little to save the planet. But then you, as our guests, do little about it, either. You deserve to carry some of the hotel industry's blame.

Let me ask you a couple of questions:
        + Do you turn the lights out when you leave your guestroom?
        + Do you leave the tap running when you shave and brush your teeth?
        + Do you stay under the shower far longer than you would at home?
        + Do you leave the air conditioning system running so the room gets so cold your nipples harden?
        + Do you use as many towels as possible and expect the sheets to be changed every day?

I could go on. But be honest, you do all this stuff in a hotel room, don't you? "And why not," you say, "I'm paying for it."

To be honest, I agree with you. I hate those little tent cards that ask you to put your towels on the rack if you want to use them again or on the floor or in the bathtub if you want them changed. (About 90 percent of guests apparently choose fresh towels.) Hell I'm enough of a sybarite to admit that I want to sleep on nice, crisp sheets that are nicer than mine at home--and I want fresh ones every night of my stay.

Shame on me. Shame on you. And shame on hotels.

Remember: There are 30,000 hotels in America and well in excess of 2.5 million travelers putting their heads on fresh pillowcases every night of the year. We really are contributing to Al Gore's hole in the sky in a massive way.

Worse, there appears to be no concerted effort by the hotel industry to do much to protect us from an environmentally disastrous future. One big chain, Marriott, claims that it is trying. They say they have replaced 400,000 traditional bulbs with those squiggly compact fluorescent ones. They say their hotels are separating their garbage and have introduced special water-saving showerheads. They say they have a corporate training policy on environmental issues for all employees. They even devote a number of pages on Marriott.com to green issues.

I admire the intent and the spin, but a lot of Marriott's efforts are simply lip service.

I recently visited the JW Marriott at Starr Pass Resort and Spa in Tucson, which opened in January, 2005. Yes, there were squiggly lightbulbs in all the lamps. But the air conditioning was on full blast in all of the public areas and in the two empty guestrooms I viewed. The showerheads looked normal to me. Guests were not asked to reuse sheets or towels. Worst of all, was a visit to the garbage disposal area: not a sign of sorting or recycling.

My guide was a sweet girl from New York who'd been living in Tucson for six years. Her name was Brittany. When I asked what the hotel did to protect the environment, she looked blankly at me and then said they had a plan to eradicate the moth that was killing the saguaro cactus. And no, she didn't receive any training on Marriott's environmental policies. Melodie, the concierge, just shook her head when I asked her about the training.

But I wouldn't want to single out Marriott. There wasn't much environmental awareness from the Four Seasons and Starwood executives I recently queried, either. And E-mails to public relations firms that handle other lodging chains went unanswered. Not even a squiggly lightbulb of a hint that any of their clients they might be doing something.

Next time you are in a hotel, why not ask them what they are doing to save the planet. Maybe if enough of us bang on the reception desk hard enough something may happen.

Of course, as Shakespeare said, the fault lies not in hotels with a lot of stars, but in ourselves. Get those squiggly lightbulbs installed in your own home and, when you're next in a hotel room, use less water, reuse your sheets, lower the AC and turn off the lights when you leave.

At least it's a start…

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ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.

THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.

This column is Copyright © 2009 by Michael Matthews. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.